“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.”
(Psalm 62:5, ESV)
In a fallen world, life is not safe; there is much to fear. Insecurity gnaws deep within. We see only a tiny portion of our own inadequacy. None of us are satisfied with who we are. We fear others will get to know these things too, they will see beneath the carefully polished, defensive veneer we erect, and share our sense of disappointment. A good track record, hard work, and success are no insulators against such forebodings. Public opinion has a habit of shifting, and suddenly. What if we lose our edge? Like the pop star, we can easily find ourself in the morass from thinking, “What if my last hit was my last hit?” And even the best writers get writer’s block. For those rare souls who actually reach the top, the pinnacle, the rarified air at the zenith seldom lasts long. What was it Van Morrison used to say, “Once you get to the top, you ain’t go no place left to go!” Except down, of course! You can always go down. In the final analysis— and I mean the final analysis— the grave will suck even the most glorious earthly scion down into its cold embrace. You can always go down!
All this insecurity and fear have deep roots, extending all the way back to Adam’s disastrous gamble (of reaching for more than God). In that instant, he went from nakedness without shame to nakedness with shame. And with that change, there is all the difference in the world.
What is shame? Shame is the public exposure of personal inadequacy. And there are few things more painful. We are constantly on the look out for tell tale signs that people are ashamed of us— their body language, tone of voice, the look in their eyes, etc.. There is so much of which we are legitimately ashamed that we tend to get extremely angry and defensive when people unfairly, or falsely project additional reasons for shame on us— perhaps our job, our educational background, mistakes that weren’t really all our fault (I mean, they hardly ever are!), and we become desperate to find something, anything to justify ourselves.
Shame leaves our soul exquisitely tender to even the slightest affront. The husband’s quite innocent question, “Will we be eating late again tonight?” becomes in his wife’s mind, “Really, are you such an incompetent buffoon of a woman that you cannot get dinner on the table at a reasonable hour?” Her justification for this translation will hang on the precise intonation with which he said the word, ‘Again!’ (Mental Note: This is one of those words for which there is probably no acceptable emphasis when discussing sensitive subjects. Delete it from your onboard vocabulary list!). The husband takes similar offense when his wife helpfully suggests, “Are you planning to cut the grass anytime soon!” Which becomes in his shame-filled mind, “I know you think you have been too busy for the last 2 weeks, but let me break it to you boyo: You are not! Will you just get off your Lazy Boy and tend to business!”
Ultimately, shame leaves us fearful of the judgment of God. Isn’t that why our first parents hid from Him in the garden? Remember: Shame makes the presence of others uncomfortable and the presence of God unbearable (Genesis 3:7-9)
What to do?
Stop and ask yourself: Are my relationships fraught with emotional drama? Am I constantly giving offense to, or taking offense from those around me? If you are, you probably have not learned to deal properly with shame. Listen to your heart: What does your internal click tape sound like? Do you often talk to yourself about God, what He is teaching you in life? Are you reminding yourself of your identity in Christ Jesus, that even the way others respond to you is a gift of His providence? Or are you listening to your “Self” talk: “I don’t think he likes me? “ “I don’t know how I would cope if____________ happened!” “Everybody at work thinks I am________________!” “If this presentation doesn’t go well, then my reputation will be completely in the toilet!” “He criticized you because he thinks you are a complete failure in every area of your life!” These thoughts are not lovely thoughts, don’t catch yourself thinking them (Phil 4:8). Check your motives: How much of your speaking and acting is focused purely on manipulating others to think better of you? Do you criticize others behind their back to your friends to make yourself look better, insightful, wise? We only criticize those beneath us, right? Do you ask questions in Sunday School to show off how much you know?— Perhaps to make the point that you should be the one teaching this class?
Remind yourself of God’s Person. If you are a Christian: You are His child. He loves you. He has always loved you. To redeem your soul, He paid the highest price imaginable, an appalling cost that made the angels gasp in wonder. The opinions of men will matter as much or as little as you remember this truth (or forget it).
Remind yourself of God’s Plan: God has a plan for your life— a plan with a beginning and an end. Your death-date is non-negotiable, written in stone. Every detail in between these two dates has been planned out by your heavenly Father. The apparent unpredictability and inequities of life will bother you as much or as little as you remember or forget this truth.
Remind yourself of God’s Providence: God works all things out according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). All creatures, actions, and things from greatest down to the least fall under the remit of all-holding gubernatorial jurisdiction. The “what might happens” of life will bother you as much or as little as you remember (or forget) this truth.
Remember who you are: You are united to Jesus. He is you and you are Him. Whoever touches you, slights you, underestimates you, hurts you in anyway, insults the Lord Jesus Christ. He takes how people treat you personally. Remember his words to Saul on the road to Jericho, “Saul, why are you persecuting *me*?” The affronts of men will bother you as much or as little as you remember (or forget) this truth.